Indonesia’s tobacco industry is one the largest in the world, but a new report by New York-based Human Rights Watch revealed the thousands of children caught working in the harsh industry are exposed to pesticides and subjected to nicotine poisoning.
The report released Wednesday urged the concern authorities to set up traceable supply chains that would discourage the use of child labor. Many Indonesian children working on tobacco farms – mostly on the Java Island – experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness.
All of these symptoms could be the result of nicotine seeping into the skin. The minor workers, who are usually sent on the tobacco fields without protective clothing, are also exposed to pesticides, but that’s not all.
They also face additional hazards by performing heavy labor in extreme heat with the use of sharp tools, according to the report from the rights group. “Kids are handling tobacco in their bare hands, and it can soak into the skin,” explained co-author Margaret Wurth, a children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, in an interview in Jakarta.
With a powerful title – “The Harvest Is in My Blood” – the report calls on local and international tobacco companies that buy the crop to stop doing commerce with suppliers that employ underage children.
Currently, Indonesian tobacco is being sold on the open market, which means that it’s almost impossible to trace it back to the farms it came from. Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest tobacco producer.
Agriculture is the country’s most profitable industry – with its many small-scale, family-run farms – and more than 1.5 million Indonesian children are used for agricultural work, according to an estimation of the International Labor Organization.
Legally, any child between the ages of 13 and 15 can do “light work” on tobacco plantations when they’re not in school. But Human Rights Watch’s investigation found that children as young as 8 were used for heavy labor.
In Indonesia’s 500,000 tobacco farms, adult workers, as well as children, are engaging in risky practices every day. There’s no training or health education, and a lot of the children working in tobacco fields receive no medical care when they become ill.
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